New fares for the state’s island ferries have provoked a backlash on Islesboro, where ticket prices will double this summer.

However, an official on North Haven said most residents on the Penobscot Bay islands served by the Maine State Ferry Service welcomed the announcement Tuesday that the current price structure is being scrapped in favor of a flat fare regardless of the length of the trip and whether a ticket is purchased on the mainland or one of the six islands. Under the current system, tickets purchased on the islands are steeply discounted.

State officials insist identical rates to North Haven, Vinalhaven, Swans Island, Islesboro, Frenchboro and Matinicus will make the system more equitable and efficient, cover a projected $700,000 budget shortfall, and allow updates such as electronic ticketing.

But some residents of Islesboro are enraged that the new fares will double the price of a 20-minute ferry ride that covers 3 miles.

“We are actually being punished, it is more than a 100 percent increase, there is no equity in that,” said Becky Schnur, who commutes from Islesboro to her job in Augusta about three days a week.

Islesboro residents depend on the seven to nine daily ferries to and from Lincolnville for services such as groceries, banks and medical treatment, and many islanders and some mainlanders ride the ferry as part of their commute, Schnur said. Doubling ticket prices will hit those working people hard, she added.

“We are not saying we won’t want to pay, we understand our rates have to go up,” Schnur said. “It is ridiculous, there is no equity, it isn’t fair.”

ANTIQUATED PRICING SYSTEM

Starting May 21, round-trip tickets on all ferries will cost $11 for an adult, $5.50 for children and $30 for a driver and passenger vehicle, a significant decrease over current prices for tickets purchased on the mainland. Tickets to Vinalhaven, North Haven and Swans Island will cost $6.50 less for adults and almost $20 less for a vehicle than the current prices. The new fares are slightly higher than current on-island tickets, about $1.25 more for an adult and $2.25 more for a car.

For Matinicus, a tiny island 20 miles off the coast, the new prices will mean significant discounts – $22 less than a current adult round-trip and $56 less for a vehicle.

Truck fares also will decrease, to $2.50 a foot, almost 32 percent less than the current average rate. The service is not closing island ticket offices.

Currently, adult tickets purchased on Islesboro cost $5.50, the lowest price in the service and 43 percent less than tickets to North Haven, Vinalhaven or Swans Island. The new fare structure will double passenger fares to Islesboro and more than double the cost of bringing a vehicle.

Maine last changed ferry rates in 2009 and the dual price structure was imposed 20 years ago to give year-round islanders a discount.

Moving to a flat-fee modernizes an antiquated pricing system based on travel distance, said Jennifer Smith, community relations manager at the ferry service. Maine taxpayers subsidize 50 percent of the ferry service through the Maine highway fund, while ferry revenue covers the remainder. The state needed to find a way to increase revenues to cover a roughly $700,000 shortfall in its $11 million budget.

‘A STEP FORWARD FOR EQUITY’

Since the ferry service is a unified system, like the state’s highways, all users should pay the same, like drivers do when they pay into the gas tax, Smith said.

“We are looking at what it is going to take to serve all the passengers on the Maine State Ferry Service,” she said. Last year, Islesboro accounted for 40 percent of ferry ridership and 26 percent of its revenue, Smith said. New pricing should make use and revenue equal, although some on Islesboro claim their ferry is the only one coming close to covering costs.

“There was an acknowledgment that Islesboro prices were going to come up because they were paying at a much lower rate,” Smith said.

Most island communities wanted equal fares to replace a “fundamentally wrong and unfair” system based on distance, said North Haven Town Administrator Joe Stone. Unpopular proposals like seasonal pricing and extra charges on out-of-state passengers were considered by the state during a year of deliberation but ultimately abandoned, he said.

“I can say pretty confidently that it is pretty much what North Haven hoped for and expected,” Stone said. “I can understand how Islesboro is the least happy of the islands, but the fare proposal and the fare structure is a huge step forward for equity for the islands.”

ISLESBORO INTENDS TO FIGHT

Islesboro, which has a population of about 600 that swells to roughly 2,000 during the summer, intends to fight the new fees. Islanders have been calling their representatives in Augusta and Washington, D.C., and there are murmurs of a ferry boycott.

Board of Selectman Chairman Arch Gillies said the board will discuss the issue Tuesday and consider taking action, but would not say what specifically.

“My anticipation is it will be a strong response,” he said.

Elana Kehoe, who moved to Islesboro five years ago, said it will cost more than $35 just to bring her son to the mainland to go to a soccer game, a movie or the grocery store. Kehoe, a single mother of two, works as a substitute teacher, house cleaner and at other jobs to make ends meet.

“We are not all these rich people out here, we are just like everyone else, trying to make a living,” she said. “All of a sudden, to have the (island) ferry discount gone, it is like they don’t actually care and they aren’t hearing us. This is a slap in the face.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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